The Bulletin Board

Hospital association supports mandating vaccinations for health care workers

By: - August 3, 2021 1:15 pm
Vials of the COVID vaccine

Nearly 25 pandemic-related proposals are on their way to becoming bills. (Getty Images)

The New Hampshire Hospital Association called Tuesday for mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers in hospitals and all health care settings, citing state data showing unvaccinated people make up 99 percent of COVID-19 cases and 98 percent of COVID-19 deaths. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine prevents people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus,” said Dr. Don Caruso, president and CEO of Cheshire Medical Center and chair of the association’s board of trustees, in a written statement. “As public health leaders, our mission is to protect the lives and well-being of both our patients and our staff, and the COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way we can do that.”

On Tuesday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health announced it will require all of its 13,000 workers to be vaccinated by the end of September, including those working remotely. Nearly 80 percent of staff have already been vaccinated, according to a news release.  

The hospital association has been weighing the decision to call publicly for mandated vaccinations with its hospital members since June as an important step in protecting both patients and health care staff, said spokesperson Vanessa Stafford. Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to announce it will require its frontline health care workers to be fully vaccinated. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still requires masks in all health care settings, even with the April end of the state’s mask mandate. 

A new state law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last week prohibits the state, local municipalities, and public schools from mandating vaccines. But private businesses, including hospitals, can require them if they provide exemptions for religious beliefs and health conditions. 

Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine told the city council last week he’d like all city staff to be mandated to get the vaccine or be tested daily. He asked city attorney Robert Sullivan to research the legalities of a staff mandate for Monday’s council meeting. Sullivan had the information ready but said Splaine did not ask for it or raise his vaccination recommendation during the meeting.

Sullivan said he sees two immediate complications with requiring city employees to be vaccinated. The state law prohibits the city from conditioning anything on taking a vaccine, he said. Next, most city employees belong to a union, and the city cannot change the terms of a contract without negotiating those changes with the union. 

If mandated vaccination for health care workers does become a reality, the public may not know how many comply. Unlike some states, New Hampshire does not publicly report voluntary vaccination rates among the state’s health care workers. And it doesn’t make it easy for the public to see what percentage of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths involve unvaccinated people.

It is not on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which reports a broad range of other COVID-19 data. And Jake Leon, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told the Bulletin last week that the department is not tracking that information.

But the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy published that data a month ago, citing the state as its source. According to the center’s report, since Feb. 1, 99 percent of the COVID-19 cases involved unvaccinated people and 98 percent of the deaths. 

The state Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday seeking that data.

Meanwhile, ReopenNH, a group that has opposed all COVID-19 safety protocols from the beginning of the pandemic, began a petition drive Tuesday calling on the Legislature to ban mask requirements in schools. The Concord School Board voted Monday to mandate masks when school resumes, but many school leaders in the state said they are still weighing that decision.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.